Yes, I stole my neighbour’s cat – but don’t you dare call me a criminal! So is Lynne caring or a crook… read her story and decide for yourself

It was a moment of insane recklessness. I looked around, picked up my former neighbor’s cat, put it under a blanket in the backseat of my car and drove away.

It was exciting. And in that moment I knew I was doing the right thing. But as I drove away, I felt a pang of guilt.

Had I just committed a terrible crime? Was I now a thief on the run from the law?

That could very well have been me, under the new Pet Kidnapping Bill, which was read for the second time in the House of Commons in January.

And I could have faced up to five years in prison for my actions. Because if and when the bill becomes law, the theft of cats or dogs will be treated as serious and specific crimes, rather than simply the taking of property as it currently stands.

Return instinct: Drexl, pictured, kept returning to Lynne’s apartment

Risk: Lynne Wallis, above, believes she could have faced up to five years in prison for her actions

Risk: Lynne Wallis, above, believes she could have faced up to five years in prison for her actions

But before you lump me in with the increasing number of heartless criminals who steal pedigree animals for financial gain, let me explain.

The story begins in 2005, when I lived in a ground floor flat in Blackheath, south-east London, with direct access to a large garden.

One morning I heard a sharp tap on my patio window and assumed it was my friend Steve who comes over for coffee most mornings.

But I looked up and saw my American neighbor instead, glaring at me. Even though I went outside to ask him what was going on, I already had a pretty good idea.

His cat, Drexl (named after a Gary Oldman character in the Quentin Tarantino film True Romance) had been visiting me most days for about a year and a half, finding his way in through an old cat flap. Lately he often came home for his dinner, then came back to me and even stayed the night.

The main reason Drexl – a black and white domestic shorthair – liked being with me was because he was terrified of two husky dogs that his legal owners had recently given homes. Every time he heard them barking, he would run under my bed.

I tried to explain to my neighbor – let’s call him Guy – that I had done nothing to encourage Drexl. I had never fed him or even called him. He just kept showing up. After all, cats are sentient beings who, with their independent minds, can never truly be ‘owned’.

But Guy was having none of it: β€œYou stole it. You’re a thief, Lynne. Do you walk into someone’s house and take the DVD player with you? Or get their car out of their driveway? It is the same.’

I was shocked, offended and, above all, frightened by the tall man in his forties on my terrace, whose voice was shaking furiously. As Guy walked away, he told me he was moving and that he was taking Drexl with him.

The news left me heartbroken. Maybe I didn’t want to admit it because it wasn’t “mine,” but I loved Drexl.

And to be honest, I hadn’t exactly discouraged him from his little visits.

A few months earlier, Guy had asked me to close the cat flap at night so that Drexl couldn’t get in. After all, I didn’t have any pets of my own. I told him I would think about it. But actually I knew I couldn’t do it. I wanted Drexl to have a place where he could escape if the big dogs scared him.

The fast approaching prospect of never seeing him again was too much to bear.

But a few weeks after I met Guy, moving vans arrived and by lunchtime that day the family was gone – along with two loud, rambunctious huskies and an adorable, but unhappy, moggy.

As time went on, I missed Drexl more than I could have imagined. He had become part of my life.

Then a miracle happened. A week after Guy and his family moved, I was woken up in the night by the cat flap opening. I knew that could only mean one thing. My boy was back!

He was a bit thinner and filthy dirty. No wonder: the family had moved five miles away and the only route back to me was to cross a highway.

The next morning, Guy arrived to take Drexl home. But the same charade played out over the next few days. Every time he came to pick up the cat, Guy insisted that Drexl was happy in his house.

I also moved around this time. I knew I wouldn’t see Drexl again, but I was grateful for the time we spent together. He’s a brave, resourceful cat, I told myself: he’ll get through it.

To secure the property I had to close the internal wooden shutters, which blocked the cat flap.

But a fortnight later I returned to pick up some mail. And who was waiting for me outside the patio door, looking completely forlorn?

That’s when I snapped. I couldn’t hold it any longer. So I picked up Drexl and we made our bid for freedom.

I have since heard from another former neighbor that Guy has returned to the area several times to look for Drexl.

I leave it to you to judge whether I am a criminal or not. But in my opinion, the thought that I could be prosecuted for this act fills me with outrage and horror.

Don’t get me wrong: the theft of animals from loving homes – motivated by financial gain – is inexcusable.

According to Direct Line Pet Insurance, 2,160 dogs were reported stolen in 2022, with only one in four returned to their owners.

Cat thefts have increased by an average of 18 percent year-on-year since 2017, with 1,300 cases reported in the past five years, according to police data.

Based on these figures, Conservative MP Anna Firth called for a change in the law, resulting in the Pet Abduction Bill.

Under the Theft Act 1968, pets are currently treated as property and penalties are linked to the ‘monetary value’ of the stolen animal. In other words, the law does not take into account the strong emotional bond between pet owners and their animals, and the immense sense of loss when they are gone.

For millions of us, pets are infinitely more than property: they are part of the family. The new bill recognizes this and should be seen as a good thing. However, the proposed legislation is opaque when it comes to cats, whose lives are obviously itinerant.

And so I’m relieved to hear that, according to Anna Firth, I’m probably clear: ‘If someone had a reasonable excuse, such as ‘The cat just came into my house’, the police wouldn’t prosecute. ‘ said the MP.

“The intention is not to criminalize people with good intentions.”

Animal behaviorist Dr. However, Anne McBride, from the University of Southampton, is still unsure whether, when it comes to pets, one bill fits all.

β€œLuring and holding problems are simple for dogs, but cats cannot be caught and held in the same way,” she explained. ‘Dogs need to be part of a social group, but cats are based more on location than on attachment to an individual person.’

The RSPCA shares Dr McBride’s concerns but broadly welcomes the bill: ‘We understand that, as cats naturally roam, it can be a real difficulty to determine whether a cat is a genuine stray or whether they are their property,” a spokesperson said.

“It’s important to find out if the cat already has a loving owner before feeding or trying to adopt the cat.”

My beautiful, loving and resilient Drexl passed away in 2016 at the age of 14.

I was bereaved and to this day I still think about my sweet boy. But it brings a wistful smile to my face to think that for nine happy years he enjoyed a home with me where he felt safe and loved.

Am I a thief, a criminal? It’s too early to say how this new bill might treat someone in my situation, but let’s just say, I don’t regret taking it.